The National Rifle Association is spending $75,000 to unseat House Republican Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart while asking all state legislators whether they will side next year with the organization, even if it means breaking with GOP leadership.
In a filing with the state Registry of Election Finance, the NRA Political Victory Fund disclosed plans to spend a total of $75,373 in the House District 45 Republican primary, roughly half designated for attacking the Hendersonville lawmaker and half toward helping her opponent, Courtney Rogers.
In a March 31 report, Maggart reported $86,066 cash on hand in her campaign account while Rogers, a retired Air Force officer, had $3,585. New reports are due next Monday and will include results of a fundraiser Gov. Bill Haslam co-hosted for Maggart.
The NRA filed its report listing the new expenditures ahead of the deadline. Other than attacking Maggart and promoting Rogers, the only spending listed in the report is a $2,500 donation to the campaign of Rep. Joshua Evans, R-Greenbrier.
The NRA and the Tennessee Firearms Association have targeted Maggart for defeat because of her role in blocking a vote on a bill that would allow Tennesseans to keep guns in their locked cars in parking lots, even if the lots are owned by a company or government entity that prohibits firearms on its premises.
The bill, called “the Safe Commute Act” by the NRA and “guns in parking lots” by many legislators, was staunchly opposed by business interests during the session. Though it won committee approval, it never came to a vote on the House floor. Top House Republican leaders, along with Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and Haslam, were united in opposing a vote on the measure as written.
“I think it (the NRA’s focus on her) is because I’m the only person in leadership who has an opponent,” Maggart said.
She also predicted that the NRA spending would have little, if any, impact in her bid for reelection.
“I think the people in my district will see through this,” she said in an interview. “I think they’ll be insulted that a Washington, D.C. lobby is trying to buy an election in Tennessee.”
In an email to fellow Republican legislators, Maggart said, “I am prepared for this fight and consider this a fight on behalf of you.”
“We must not allow political groups to bully us into making bad public policy. We must be courageous enough to make the right decisions,” she wrote.
In a news release endorsing Rogers, the NRA group said Maggart “has undermined our Second Amendment rights.
“Just this past session, Rep. Maggart tried to kill life-saving legislation known as the Safe Commute Act through procedural maneuvering behind closed doors. The Safe Commute Act would have ensured that Tennessee’s 350,000 handgun carry permit holders would have been able to defend themselves against violence as they commuted away from home. NRA members throughout the state can rest assured that Lt. Colonel Rogers, once elected to office, will see that this wrong is righted,” the release says.
Jackie Otto, spokeswoman for the NRA group, declined Monday to elaborate on the expenditures against Maggart, though she said a formal statement would be issued today. The filing indicates the attacks on Maggart will include “independent expenditures” on radio ads and signs. The help for Rogers will come in both independent expenditures and a direct donation of $7,100 to the Rogers campaign.
The NRA is raising the “guns in parking lots” issue in a questionnaire sent to all candidates for the state Legislature that was obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Answers to the questionnaire will be used in NRA decisions on supporting or opposing other candidates. One question simply asks whether the candidate will support the bill if elected.
“As a legislator, would you follow the demands of party leadership even if they run contrary to the NRA’s legislative agenda?” one survey item asks.
The Tennessee Firearms Association sent an email to members Monday hailing the NRA spending and declaring it would also work to “remove Debra Maggart and replace her with a candidate who still values the constitution over money and partisan power.”